Ecstatic Émigré: An Ethics of Practice by Claudia Keelan (University of Michigan Press, 2018)
Reviewed by Michelle Mitchell-Foust
To hold a forest dear is easy in Oregon. Where I live, forested land preaches the tenacity of growth, overgrowth, understory. Scented speech, the call and response between plants and plants, and plants and animals, is everywhere, almost terrifying in its abundance. One might say that the forest remains the third terrain of my life, after field and desert. And in its arms I have been fighting the loneliness that comes from a years-long absence of poetry, or rather, my own lines of poetry in conception. Or perhaps I have been listening to an overabundance of words that I can’t place. Regardless, this is not an even exchange–forest for poem-making–but the cursive of branches and the color of eccentric miniature often make the poems of my days. For the time being, searching the characteristics of the smallest visible life is the sublime.
The After Party by Jana Prikryl (Tim Duggan Books, 2016)
Reviewed by Hannah Wyatt
A couple of weekends ago, while wandering through the
statuesque dinosaurs and food trucks of my new city, I picked up a $1 copy of
Jana Prikryl’s The After Party (Tim Duggan Books, 2016) at a tent sale
hosted by Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Library. This being my first read of Prikryl’s
work, I was delighted to find that, within the first few lines of the collection,
I felt I was reading someone who cared about the world I care about.
How to Pull Apart the Earth by Karla Cordero (Not A Cult, 2018)
Reviewed by Leonora Simonovis
Featured in Oprah Magazine under the title “17 of the Best Poetry Books, as Recommended by Acclaimed Writers for National Poetry Month” How to Pull Apart the Earth is described by writer Laura Villareal as a journey into “the collective memory found in [the author’s] personal history, reminding us that we are rooted in the same familial tenderness.” The beautifully written 71 poems speak to the author’s identity as a Chicanx/Latinx woman raised in the border town of Calexico and themes of family, migration, and awareness, as well as identity and belonging, are seamlessly weaved throughout.
The Bride Test by Helen Hoang (Penguin Random House 2019)
Reviewed by Patricia Steckler
I have never encountered a person who is not fully human in 35 years of private practice as a clinical psychologist. Diagnoses, country-of-origin, race, religion, and financial status do not define people. Not at all. Why do we say that a person has cancer or has arthritis and, conversely, say that a person is autistic or is an immigrant as if those labels completely define them?
Assigning labels condemns people
to a marginalized purgatory. Perceived to be less than human, unable to love or
feel pain, they’re relegated to the sidelines of life and deemed to be odd,
bizarre, even dangerous.
The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through
Madness by Elyn R. Saks (Hachette Books 2007)
Reviewed by Patricia Steckler
Horrifying delusions and auditory hallucinations
did not deter Elyn Saks from her Oxford University Master’s degree studies. Compassionate
psychiatric care in England squired her through. But, later, as a law student
at Yale University and in a psychotic state, Yale psychiatrists “bound both
legs and both arms to a metal bed with thick leather straps” and forced
medication down her throat. Multiple times. She plummeted into despair.
“A sound comes out of me that I’ve never heard before—half groan, half scream, marginally human, and all terror. Then the sound comes out of me again, forced from somewhere deep in my belly and scraping my throat raw. Moments later, I’m choking and gagging on some kind of bitter liquid that I try to lock my teeth against but cannot. They make me swallow it. They make me.” (4)
Nature Store by Mary Kasimor (dancing girl press & studio, 2017)
Reviewed by Ann Tweedy
Mary Kasimor is an experimental poet who has published
numerous books and chapbooks and who, more recently, has begun to establish
herself as a visual artist. Now retired,
she served for many years as a professor at a technical college in
Minnesota. She describes her art as
being like her poetry in that it is “very experimental and abstract.” She uses thread, ink and paint (watercolor or
acrylic). Her paintings, reminiscent of
Rothko’s early work, have soft shapes connected by wavy lines which are set
against a colorful background. Her
poetry is imagistic and non-linear and often explores gender and other social
justice issues, along with her own experiences.
You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian (Gallery/Scout Press 2019)
Reviewed by Gregorio Tafoya
“Ellie was a biter.”
Queer literature isn’t just about representation. It’s about making room for fluidity, hybridity, experimentation, the complicated, difficult to define realities of the way we define ourselves, the ways we love, the ways we see and move through the world. This month, we celebrate LGBTQ+ authors — those we’ve covered in the past, and those we look forward to reading in the near future.
Favorites we recommend…
Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett (Tin House Books, 2019)
Reviewed by Emily Nelson
Florida has a pretty brutal reputation. Between the ghastly riches of the Florida Man meme to Marco Rubio, there’s definitely more than a few reasons that a decent portion of the U.S. sees it as the embarrassing Drunk Uncle of the states. But if Kristen Arnett has anything to say about it, Florida is on the come up — at least, as far as literature is concerned. Her debut novel, Mostly Dead Things, is as much a love letter to her state of residence as it is a darkly sweet story of grief and growth in a family of taxidermists. Arnett, a darling of Literary Twitter for her dispatches on working as a librarian and her dedication to convenience stores (her Twitter bio declares her a “7-Eleven Scholar”), creates in Mostly Dead Things a universe conjured from swamp magic and sweat, something gritty and wild and aggressively real that makes it instantly unforgettable.